To the average person, cycling brings up images of riders in body-clinging tights whizzing by at speed, an association shaped by team sponsorships and coverage of world-famous races such as the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia. The quest to shave off a few more grams in the service of speed is the holy grail of many a cyclist, and by extension, bicycle brands, who compete to deliver the newest, lightest piece of equipment, down to the nuts and bolts, with the implicit goal of beating someone's Strava time.
In truth, not everyone fits the high speed ethos. Out in Walnut Creek, California, a bicycle company called Rivendell Bicycle Works has been making headway in the industry singing to the tune that good ol' reliable steel frames are the way to go. Clanking along with racks and baskets, fenders and mudflaps, Rivendell has carved out a loyal following and inspired a handful of gutsy independent brands to jump on the bandwagon. Owner Grant Petersen, who prefers to sell merino wool clothing over Lycra, founded Rivendell after a 10-year stint as the Product and Marketing Manager of Bridgestone Cycle USA, where he was known for going against the trend. While other brands experimented with suspension, Petersen released rigid steel forks for mountain bikes. It is telling that the bikes he produced at Bridgestone are now sought after by collectors due to their unique characteristics. Today, he is considered as the leader of a new movement that prefers the strength of steel and feel of leather to the latest in racing technology. In 2012, Petersen published a book titled “Just Ride,” which outlines his philosophy to cycling and prompted many to rethink their approach to cycling.
Petersen champions the philosophy that bicycles should be a natural part of our everyday lives. Leisure, comfort and exploration are more important being aerodynamic and lightweight. Due to his cult-like status in the bicycle industry, Petersen became one of the instigators in the industry, and people begin to embrace the idea that cycling does not have to be about lightweight equipment, speed and the race to finish. There is a place in the market for heavy, reliable bicycles to be ridden for pleasure or commuting. The Petersen effect is now being seen with some in the industry following suit, producing steel bikes aimed at the brevets, cross-country and camping market rather instead of for racing. A once untapped market of riders has found discovered a new way of cycling.
Despite its success as a brand that is primarily marketed through word of mouth, social media and the internet, Rivendell has its own challenges such as keeping in supply and demand in check. As a fairly small operation, the ability to have a large inventory and shipping out to customers on time is a challenge. In addition, Petersen even restricts the parts that can go on to his bikes and has rejected some orders as he feels they do not meet his requirements. This is a challenge for customers who are ready to commit to 1000K to 5000K bicycles. His bikes are not cheap but then again, they are built to last.
Customers who gravitate towards Rivendell bikes are those who considers these bicycles to be the ideal extension of their lifestyle. These customers would rather buy from an experienced, retrogrouch like Petersen than from the giants. And by the way, Rivendell also sells children's books, pine soap and hatchets. Talk about challenging the norm.
To learn more about Rivendell Bicycles, click here.